By William Casis

To ensure that movies and other contents in video streaming sites by Netflix, iFlix and others, are compliant with the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) law, an official of the agency wants them regulated. 

Speaking during the Senate Trade committee hearing on the proposed Internet Transactions Act, MTRCB’s Legal Affairs Division chief Jonathan Presquito said, “There is a necessity for us to proceed with the regulation, especially during the lockdown,” Presquito said, stressing that most people subscribe to movie streaming services like  Netflix and iFlix  to keep their sanity intact.

But Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, author of the Internet Transactions Act, said,  “What our proposal intends to do is limited to the buying and selling of video on demand insofar as the content is concerned, whether that is Rated R or Rated 18+, that’s another law.”

Furthermore,  Gatchalian suggested the  issue raised by Presquito is better addressed at a separate measure since it dwells on content.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said,  “It’s either we update our laws to catch up with technology or we enforce our archaic laws and hold back technological progress.”

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon opposed the MTRCB’s plan, saying,

“It’s very impractical. There are thousands of shows on Netflix alone. Can the MTRCB review every content accessed through the internet? What will they do about virtual private networks that allow access to content from other countries? If they insist on it, then taxpayers will be paying MTRCB only to stream movies and shows 24/7, 365 days,” he said. 

He noted that Netflix has self-regulation mechanisms that are not present in, and are perhaps, more effective than the regulation or classification in television. 

Netflix classifies shows based on whether these are for General Patronage, Parental Guidance, 7 and above, 16 and up, R-18 and so on.

He also said the Constitution prohibits censorship on content as it is tantamount to prior restraint and infringes on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. 

However, Presquito maintained that when the entity is registered with MTRCB, three things can happen:  Movies that would be streamed are age-appropriate,  prohibited content can’t be seen and the movies shown online are authorized by the distributors.

In other countries, he noted that all Netflix content undergoes prior review. He cited South Korea’s policy that requires the prior review of the contents from the American movie and technology giant.

“We want an environment of growth and, in fact, during our engagement with different regulators in the (Southeast Asian) region, the commonality is let’s allow the streaming service to flourish but how do we balance that with the regulatory mechanisms?”

He asserted that the MTRCB law covers all motion picture content regardless of the platform. If the entity is selling the material, he said that entity must first be registered with the MTRCB, then the material being sold must be duly passed upon review by the MTRCB. “Otherwise, it is a clear violation of the MTRCB law,” he added.

As early as 2018, he said they engaged with the regulatory counterparts in different regions, as well as the different stakeholders for the MTRCB to implement regulating motion picture content distributed by Netflix, Amazon prime, Iflix and the rest.

In 2019, he said the BIR, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) were set to impose the regulation.

The MTRCB prepared a draft of regulatory policies but did not roll it out.

“We don’t want to create an impression that MTRCB will be violating the other laws of the Philippines. For example if Netflix will register with MTRCB and yet Netflix won’t comply with SEC law on doing business, won’t comply with the BIR law on registration, won’t comply with the local government regulations, mayor’s permit,” he said. 

“How can we require Netflix to register in the Philippines? Wala siya sa Pilipinas eh but the product is being distributed online,” he added.